Two former butchers and a sociologist explain how animals are transformed from living creatures into row materials in professional, industrialized slaughtering, and what helps butchers to cope with their work emotionally.
“That was actually pretty abnormal,” says Thomas Schalz today, about his work in a slaughterhouse.
He worked there for 17 years, in all areas: driving, stunning, killing, and cutting the animals. The slaughterhouse in which he worked developed over the years into a large-scale slaughterhouse specializing in pigs.
Up to 3,500 pigs were slaughtered every day.
Above all, the anesthesia of the pigs with CO2, which happens before they are actually killed, is what Schalz still follows in his mind today.
“The pigs go down in a gondola in over 90 percent CO2 gas. It usually takes 20 to 30 seconds until the animals are unconscious.
And yes, they just can’t breathe anymore. There is no longer any oxygen they can breathe.
The strongest animals try to climb over the others and stretch their trunks up out of the mesh basket to breathe oxygen. But there is no oxygen, ” says Schalz, describing the stunning process.
Peter Hübner also worked in a large slaughterhouse – as part of his apprenticeship as a butcher.
Like Schalz, he is also a dropout. He remembers: “You saw this fear in their eyes, you saw this helplessness and you deliberately drove the animals to their death.”
Looking back, he says: “That was incredibly difficult.”
How did Hübner manage to drive so many animals to their death back then?
How did Thomas Schalz manage to drive thousands of pigs down into the CO2 pit at the push of a button over the years, knowing full well what was going on there?
How do slaughterhouse employees deal with slaughtering hundreds of animals on an assembly line every day?
How does the killing of animals become business as usual?
That is a question that sociologist Marcel Sebastian asks. He recently submitted his doctoral thesis to the University of Hamburg, (Germany).
The sociologist interviewed 13 trained butchers – all male – who work in six different slaughterhouses in different areas. “I am investigating what is understood as appropriate, necessary, and correct feeling and correct expression of feelings? “ describes Sebastian his research interests.
Marcel Sebastian finds it remarkable that the killing of animals is not suppressed by his interview partners. “That is what we as a population, what we actually do as consumers,” the sociologist finds. In the slaughterhouse, on the other hand, killing animals is a normal everyday object.
Hübner says: “It was clear to me: every animal that comes must be killed. I knew very well: the animal has no chance. It will be killed. Either way. And if it is not killed here, it has to be put back on the transporter and will be killed elsewhere. “
Thomas Schalz also says: “The animals that end up in the slaughterhouse, there is no longer any escape for them, they only come out of the operation as a piece.”
Thomas Schalz and Peter Hübner never suppressed the fact that their work is about killing countless animals. They deliberately operated on the death of the animals, initiated it.
How does it work? How do you package that emotionally? The slaughterhouse is demanding something from the workers that Marcel Sebastian describes as emotional neutrality.
In the slaughterhouse, the following applies: “You don’t build individual relationships with individual animals. “In the slaughterhouse, you can no longer develop an emotional bond with the pigs. You mustn’t see the pig as cute and great, ” he says. A self-protection mechanism”, as Schalz thinks.”
The slaughterhouse staff must learn and practice emotional neutrality towards the animals. It is not something they would automatically bring with them.
“They weren’t born that way. Their emotional neutrality is the result of work – of emotional work,” emphasizes Sebastian. “The slaughterhouse workers would use techniques to stay untouched”, the sociologist said.
What kind of techniques are these?
One such technique to stay untouched is high alcohol consumption.
Peter Hübner reports: “In my column, there was already a beer on the table for breakfast because it wasn’t really possible without it.”
He too began to drink to endure the work in the slaughterhouse:
“You numb these atrocities that you practice yourself. You try to drink it nicer or more pleasantly. “
Another strategy to achieve the emotional neutrality required in the slaughterhouse is to objectify the animals, says the sociologist Marcel Sebastian.
“In the slaughterhouse, the animals are no longer viewed as individuals capable of suffering, but rather as a material that one works with,” says Sebastian.
Thomas Schalz puts it this way: “You have to regard the living animal as the schnitzel that goes out the back after being cut up”.
Without this objectification of the animals, the work in the slaughterhouse is practically impossible.
Almost all of Marcel Sebastian’s interviewees had already dealt with the subject of slaughter in their childhood. So did Thomas Schalz and Peter Hübner.
Schalz reports: “I almost automatically slipped into this whole story through my father, who worked as a personnel manager for slaughterhouses.”
Peter Hübner grew up on his grandparents’ farm and says: “I have known slaughter from an early age. My grandparents had animals that they raised to eat later, ” recalls Peter Hübner.
He says: “I thought that was legitimate.”
Leaving the industry is the absolute exception
How often does such an exit from the industry happen?
“Those are – I would say – the absolute exceptions in quantitative terms,” says sociologist Marcel Sebastian.
“You shouldn’t confuse that with a typical process or an effect that happens frequently,” he says.
Sebastian draws the conclusion from his interviews: “Essentially, people work there – especially in the field of driving, stunning and killing – who do it with a certain degree of conviction and inner stability and who follow the normal course of a slaughterhouse, there comes a pig, there comes the next, and the next, easily managed as business as usual. “
Thomas Schalz and Peter Hübner have left the industry – an industry that previously had great formality, tradition, and legitimacy for them. Today the two of them live vegan and work together with a former butcher as “Association butcher against animal murder (MgT Association) for better animal rights.
And I mean…In a slaughterhouse, group morale applies, that is, whoever plays the tough guy wins respect and recognition in the group. That actually forces one to suppress emotions or inhibitions (if he has any) against the slaughter.
There are many explanations of how to become a slaughterhouse worker.
I say it very clearly! that is primarily poverty.
Capitalism is merciless towards the poor.
Anyone who no longer knows how to survive chooses the easy solution and goes to the slaughterhouse.
The last scandals on the occasion of the corona-infected slaughterhouse workers in the empire of the meat baron Tönnies have proven it (https://worldanimalsvoice.com/2020/06/18/germany-alarm-mood-at-the-meat-baron-tonnies/.
Despite this bitter reality: That is not why we would “understand” the slaughterhouse worker’s job, which in other words means to forgive him for doing this job.
There are also other job alternatives, garbage collectors, postmen, cleaning workers.
If you really can’t stand using electric pliers or nail guns to shot defenseless animals, slit animals’ necks to death in accord tempo, you get out and do something useful.
My best regards to all, Venus